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Quitting was UNO chief’s only choice

Juan Rangel  |  Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Juan Rangel | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: January 9, 2014 6:37AM

He had to go.

On Friday Juan Rangel, head of the politically powerful United Neighborhood Organization that he led to impressive heights, finally resigned.

A skilled and engaging leader with a real vision for Latino empowerment, Rangel was also the master of his own undoing.

He resigned, it seems, because he had no other choice. Since early this year, this page and others have been calling for his resignation from the group, which runs a large network of Chicago public charter schools. That’s when the Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos first disclosed insider contracting on UNO school construction projects. That snowballed into a scandal that cost the group millions of dollars in state funding and led to a federal investigation of UNO’s bond dealings.

Over his nearly two-decade reign at UNO, Rangel appeared to have forgotten that taxpayers were bankrolling UNO’s charter work. In the name of Latino empowerment, his group apparently felt free to flout basic rules of public accountability and avoid blatant conflicts of interest.

Rangel’s continued presence at UNO likely would have meant no more state money and a cloud that continued to undermine its mission.

And that would have been the real tragedy. Rangel has a vision for a better life for Latinos in Chicago through quality school options and political empowerment. Some condemned him for it, but Rangel believed in working through the existing power structure, of playing the insider game as a means toward full participation and success in American life.

And he has much to show for it, most notably UNO’s political power and its expansive network of 16 charter schools, largely serving low-income Latino students. With Rangel’s departure UNO can carry on that work in a way, we trust, that better serves the public as a whole.

Rangel gave much to UNO and its students. We can only hope he has learned a few things and finds another, less compromised, way to serve.

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